July 19, 2004

Indiana Courts - Impact of Blakely in Indiana Reported

An important story today in the Evansville Courier&Press -- and the first major story on this topic I've seen in an Indiana paper -- reports on the impact of the Blakely ruling on Indiana federal courts. Some quotes from this lengthy story (emphasis added):

Federal courts across the country, including those in Kentucky and Illinois, are in a state of flux due to the Blakely ruling. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes federal appeals from Kentucky, ruled the Blakely decision does apply and said the federal sentencing guidelines should be used only as suggested recommendations, not a mandatory formula.

Meanwhile, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from Indiana and Illinois [and Wisconsin], also said the decision by the high court applies to the federal guidelines and has ruled their use unconstitutional. But the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, recently ruled the Blakely decision doesn't apply to federal sentencing guidelines and gave its blessing to the status quo.

Twice in the last two weeks, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker of Indianapolis has ruled the federal sentencing guidelines are unconstitutional and cited the Blakely ruling in her decisions.

Young has yet to announce how he'll interpret the Blakely ruling. But both Barker and Young have been publicly critical of the sentencing guidelines, as have several Supreme Court justices.

They complain that the guidelines have virtually stripped judges of their ability to make discretionary decisions about criminal sentences. The guidelines force them to follow the complicated, points-based system. It requires a judge to set a sentence based on aggravating and mitigating factors that are not routinely considered by a jury during a trial or included as essential elements in a plea agreement.

Judges complain the guidelines have put too much power in the hands of prosecutors and force judges to impose unduly harsh sentences. "Cookie-cutter justice is no justice at all,'' said Barker. Without any clear guidance from the Supreme Court, her colleagues are left to make their own decisions on how to interpret the ruling. During a recent sentencing hearing in Indianapolis, U.S. District Judge Larry J. McKinney kept a portion of the guidelines, but tossed out the part that had to do with enhanced sentences based on aggravating factors.

Note: I've checked the SD Ind. site - the two Judge Barker rulings referred to have not been posted. Here is the ILB's 7/9/04 report on the 7th Circuit's ruling in U.S. v. Booker. For other ILB Blakely entries, type "Blakely" (no quotes) in the search box in the right column. And for "all Blakely, all the time" go to the excellent Sentencing Law & Policy blog.

The Wall Street Journal this morning (paid subscription only) has a piece indicating just how important Professor Berman's sentencing blog has become in tracking Blakely's impact. It is on page B1 and headlined "Law Professor's Web Log is Jurists' Must-Read".

Posted by Marcia Oddi at July 19, 2004 06:16 AM